Longform

The Sedona 's 5's Excellent Adventure

Page 5 of 7

Not all the response from other mountain bikers had been so positive. Forest tells the story of a sales rep for the Gary Fischer bike company who turned up his nose at the ride. "Someone introduced me to him as one of the Sedona 5, thinking he would think it was cool. He just stared at me for a while really cold and then he nodded and said 'jerks.'"

Wheeze has kept a running pro/con tally of e-mail response to the Sedona 5 Web site since he took it online in mid-December (http://www.ibike.com/canyon/canyon.htm). As of early August, the count for just more than 2,500 messages was 76 percent for the riders and 24 percent against.

"You people make me sick," wrote one critic in Georgia. "I'll bet you're a bunch of longhaired New Age types sitting there in Sedona with crystals around your necks. You clowns broke the law and you deserve to be punished. Perhaps the Sedona library should remove any copies of books by Ed Abbey so that you don't get any more bright ideas."

Fifteen years ago, when mountain biking was a fringe sport just starting to catch on, almost any biker who rode on public park land was technically breaking the law by using a trail designated for hikers only--no vehicles allowed. However, those rules were originally written to ban motorized off-road vehicles like dirt bikes and three-wheelers. Mountain bikes posed an unusual question--what to do with a new kind of "vehicle" that could move quickly over wilderness trails, but didn't have an engine. Most states have opened at least some of their state park trails to mountain bikers, but national wilderness areas are still off-limits.

"Essentially, the Park Service has decided that mountain biking is not consistent with the scenic and aesthetic values of the wilderness experience," says Herring. Pressed to explain, the wilderness ranger said it was "a matter of attitude, of a lack of respect for the park." However, Herring says the Sedona 5 caused negligible trail damage--far less than one of the commercial mule trains that routinely travel the park's major trails. "Yes, mules are a high-impact animal," he says. "But that's irrelevant. The issue here is respect for what this park is for. These guys [the Sedona 5] were not out to enjoy the natural splendor. They were there to put a notch in their belt."

Which cuts to one of the thorniest barriers between mountain bikers and increased trail access--the stereotype of mountain bikers as reckless trail hogs who bully hikers and ride roughshod over Mother Nature. To combat this image problem, national bike magazines and advocacy organizations such as N.O.R.B.A (the National Off-Road Bicycle Association) have called on mountain bikers to improve relations with other trail users, use minimum-impact riding techniques (i.e., stay on the trails, don't ride after a fresh rain) and organize trail maintenance programs.

As a goodwill effort, mountain bikers in some states, including Arizona, even work on trails where they're not legally allowed to ride (on the Rama Ride, the bikers made a game of cleaning up trash along the wilderness trail, leaning to swoop up litter on the fly like polo players swinging a mallet).

The success of such PR campaigns, however, has been incremental at best, and the mountain-biker access movement has split into two camps: those who want to keep working within the system, and those who have given up on it. "All we want is the same access rights as farm animals and mining equipment," says Rama, referring to the cattle and heavy machinery allowed in wilderness areas around Sedona that are prohibited to bikers. "The system doesn't give us that, and we've given the system enough time. Now we're going to ride where we want."

"Rather than follow the law, which is unfair, we follow our motto," says Wheeze. "'Hurt no one, and do as you please.'"

"Hurt no one, my ass," one angry fellow biker from Colorado wrote the Web site. "You hurt the credibility of us all. Off-road cyclists all over the U.S. are fighting for trail access, and we are fighting a war of reputation. When you pull a wise-ass stunt like this, you make us all seem irresponsible. You smeared mountain bikers everywhere. I wish they'd flown you to Leavenworth in leg irons."

Sitting Buddha-style at a stone table outside a Sedona coffee house on a recent Wednesday morning, Wheeze smokes hand-rolled tobacco-and-sage cigarettes (despite the asthma inhaler rolled inside his Lycra biker shorts) and holds forth to an audience of five or six locals on Sedona Jeep tour companies, and the preferential treatment he claims they receive from "the Forest Circus" when it comes to wilderness use permits. He is clearly enjoying his role as de facto spokesman and agitator.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse